Image source: Böcklin: In der Gartenlaube, ~1891, By Arnold Böcklin – “Von Anker bis Zünd, Die Kunst im jungen Bundesstaat 1848 – 1900”, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1998, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5543414
Is there a muse more poorly treated in modern culture than Clio?
We forget. We lose the art of telling the stories of history in all their intricacy. We seek to judge and condemn, identify and parade, rather than understand and look at the ruins with curiosity. We raid the same old valley of stories – “Western civilization” or George RR Martin and the War of the Roses? – over and over, and neglect the greener fields on the other side of the valley. And Clio’s name – I guess like so many other muses – has become a brand for yet more commerce, even advertising awards.
Sure there are exceptions – Inga Clendinnen and Felipe Fernandez-Armesto are just two historians who write in a way that does celebrate Clio. But perhaps we should not be surprised.
Life, even in the mythos, did not turn out so well for Clio. After offending the goddess of love, she was passed off in some loveless marriage to some mortal king. Her only son wounded and died, and from his blood sprang perhaps this muse’s greatest gift to the world.
So whose spirit are the old couple grieving for in garden pavilion?